It was all special teams for the majority of the Vol offense during the open portion of practice today. Butch Jones and the coaching staff spent all of the open portion working with their team on kickoff coverage and returns in the final practice this week ahead of Saturday’s game against Florida.
Receiver Von Pearson was on the practice field today in full gear and did participate in the walkthrough portion of practice with the offense. Pearson was sporting a heavily taped left ankle but seemed to be moving well in the limited action we were able to see. Pearson was not on the field at all yesterday during the open periods of practice, but was welcomed back by his coach today over the loudspeaker when Butch Jones told his defense that they “…have a new guy to hit today. Somebody needs to hit Von and get him reacclimated.”
Pearson was also seen fielding kickoffs with Devrin Young and Evan Berry during a later special teams portion, but I wouldn’t expect to see him back there this weekend. Regardless of how much action he sees on the field this Saturday, Pearson’s presence on the practice field is easily easily noticeable among his teammates. The junior college transfer always has a very positive energy about him that is contagious among the rest of the players.
The tight ends got in some brief work with the quarterbacks during the special teams periods. Ethan Wolf apparently missed a special teams rep when he left to work with the tight ends that drew the ire of his head coach. Jones singled Wolf out for missing the special teams work, “It’s time to grow up Ethan Wolf. You just let your entire team down.”
The Vols also worked on recovering onside kicks, with Marquez North, Jason Croom, Brian Randolph, Daniel Helm and Marlin Lane seeing the majority of the reps in that department. It wasn’t just a drill focused on retrieving the ball, however, as they also worked on their approach to different types of kicks. Mark Elder spent a lot of time teaching his guys exactly how he wants them to approach the situation based on different looks and kick angles.
Cam Sutton, Josh Malone, Pig Howard and Emmanuel Moseley all spent time fielding punts today as Zach Azzanni hit them with a foam pad and blew whistles in their ear. There were no live returns for the punt team, but the returners appeared to field the ball well.
Just some final thoughts on practice this week: This team appears to be extremely focused and quietly confident heading into the game this weekend. There has been a lot of bulletin board material coming out of Gainesville this week and I think that it may be an underlying motivator for this team right now. There is likely no way to know about that until we ask them about it after Saturday’s game, but this team has a different vibe surrounding it as compared to previous weeks and I can’t help but think that the chatter coming from various Florida players might be playing a factor.
For all the talk about the Florida game “being in the player’ heads” in recent years (nine, to be exact), I think that this team is loose and ready to play in what will be an absolutely electric atmosphere on Saturday.
Here is the link to today’s Defensive Notes and Observations.